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Purdue football is clearly improving. No, seriously

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The 128-team countdown takes on one of the country's toughest rebuilds, which is in much better shape than a year ago.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Time to leap?

"The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps."

It's one of my favorite quotes from one of football's more quotable coaches (ULM's Todd Berry), and while it is purely anecdotal, it's also catchy.

And sometimes it's perfectly descriptive. A team struggles dramatically with a new coach in his first year (the Year Zero effect) then starts to figure out what it's doing in his second year. And in his third year, with a two-deep made of either seniors or his own signees, the program takes a healthy step forward.

There are about 100 different obstacles that can throw this happy train off course along the way -- injuries, costly recruiting misses, coaching defections, bad luck, random personnel issues, simple poor coaching -- but in theory, this is what you want.

It's what we've seen so far from Purdue and Darrell Hazell. Hazell's disastrous 2013, his first after leaving Kent State, was the quintessential Year Zero. After ranking between 80th and 87th in the F/+ ratings for three consecutive years under Danny Hope, Purdue looked for a fresh start with Hazell, and it began with Purdue sinking to 101st with a 1-11 record.

The Boilermakers were young and awful in 2013, but they made well-defined progress last year. You might not have noticed because the progress stopped when injuries ravaged the two-deep, but for the first two-thirds of the year, Purdue was playing at a top-60 or top-70 level. It's impressive, considering the level of youth.

Sleeping in year one? Check. Creeping in year two? Check. So now comes the leap ... in theory. If the talent and coaching are where they need to be, then the experience could pay off. Purdue boasts two experienced quarterbacks, an explosive No. 1 receiver, a loaded offensive line, and a patient defense filled with sophomores and juniors. It might take two leaps to get Purdue back to respectability, especially with a schedule that features six teams from last year's F/+ top 40, but barring land mines, Purdue appears to be on the right course.

Compare that to what I said last year.

Here are some teams that ranked ahead of Purdue (No. 157) in Jeff Sagarin's inclusive FBS/FCS rankings: Montana State, Samford, Murray State, Brown, South Carolina State, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton.

On the bright side, the Boilermakers did rank ahead of four Ivy League schools, though Yale and Penn got awfully close.

Again, maybe this all ends fine. Maybe Purdue fans end up laughing about how poorly this went before the rebuild. Maybe. But unlike Willie Taggart at USF, Hazell isn't lapping his conference competition in recruiting. If there's a way out, it's going to take quite a bit of climbing.

Granted, Harvard (No. 95) remained ahead of Purdue (No. 99) in Sagarin's rankings last year, but take that, Dartmouth (No. 138) and Princeton (No. 213)!

Hazell isn't recruiting a ton of blue-chippers, but he's putting pieces together that can get Purdue back in the top 40. We'll worry about whether he can do more once he gets there. And I'm much more confident in him getting there than I was 12 months ago.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 84
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Western Michigan 56 43-34 W 70% 12.5 43%
6-Sep Central Michigan 85 17-38 L 32% -10.7 5%
13-Sep vs. Notre Dame 34 14-30 L 52% 1.4 23%
20-Sep Southern Illinois NR 35-13 W 87% 26.8 100%
27-Sep Iowa 63 10-24 L 17% -21.9 1%
4-Oct at Illinois 78 38-27 W 64% 8.7 75%
11-Oct Michigan State 11 31-45 L 61% 6.7 12%
18-Oct at Minnesota 37 38-39 L 65% 9.1 48%
1-Nov at Nebraska 30 14-35 L 23% -17.6 0%
8-Nov Wisconsin 25 16-34 L 15% -24.2 0%
22-Nov Northwestern 71 14-38 L 20% -19.8 3%
29-Nov at Indiana 88 16-23 L 41% -5.0 26%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 24.5 92 26.6 53
Points Per Game 23.8 98 31.7 99

2. Just too many injuries

[O]ver the last five games, Purdue hasn't been terrible. The Boilers haven't been good, but they had Notre Dame down late in the first half and were within 24-14 heading into the fourth. They disposed of Southern Illinois like you're supposed to. They had the ball down seven points to Iowa in the fourth quarter. They ran all over Illinois in a road win. And they had the ball down seven points to Michigan State in the fourth quarter.

They're improving. If State fancies a national title run, the Spartans need to dispose of the 70th-ranked team better than this. But "You tried to lose to PURDUE" doesn't have quite the same ring. Purdue's not terrible.

I noticed the Boilermakers' improvement just in time for the collapse. In five of their first eight games, they played at a level of the the 60th percentile (approximately the top 50) or higher. Again, for a team that ranked in the triple digits the year before, this was an accomplishment.

There were duds -- no Big Ten team should lose by three touchdowns to CMU, and while Purdue stayed close to Iowa, Iowa was clearly superior. But this team had taken steps. And then it took steps backward.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 5 games): 52% (record: 2-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 3 games): 63% (record: 1-2)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 25% (record: 0-4)

Injuries took apart the receiving corps and forced continuous shuffling among the defense's back seven. Combine that with ongoing quarterback inconsistency, and you've got a prime recipe for a late-season fade. After averaging 7.1 yards per play and 36 points per game against Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota, the Boilermakers averaged 4.3 and 15 in November.

The defense had already begun to fade by the fifth game. After thumping Illinois and fighting tooth-and-nail with Michigan State and Minnesota, Purdue lost by an average score of 33-15 over the final four.

There's plenty of work to be done. But the promise of October was undeniable.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 79 IsoPPP+ 85.3 103
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.1% 110 Succ. Rt. + 100.7 69
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.8 125 Def. FP+ 95.9 115
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 104 Redzone S&P+ 87.0 108
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.4 ACTUAL 24 +2.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 111 97 76 103
RUSHING 73 56 43 61
PASSING 103 118 99 120
Standard Downs 93 74 91
Passing Downs 105 70 109
Q1 Rk 103 1st Down Rk 74
Q2 Rk 59 2nd Down Rk 111
Q3 Rk 83 3rd Down Rk 96
Q4 Rk 122

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Austin Appleby 6'5, 229 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8604 144 272 1449 10 11 52.9% 12 4.2% 4.8
Danny Etling 6'2, 216 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8967 89 162 800 6 5 54.9% 11 6.4% 4.1
David Blough 6'1, 202 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8650
Elijah Sindelar 6'4, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8733

3. Efficiency requires fewer mistakes

Darrell Hazell's hire of John Shoop as his coordinator raised a few eyebrows. The longtime NFL assistant had spent five years as North Carolina's O.C. from 2007-11, overseeing three decent offenses and two bad ones, and his first Purdue offense was abysmal.

With no play-makers to speak of and execution that wasn't good enough to offset the lack of explosiveness, Purdue averaged 4.6 yards per play in 2013. They scored a combined 60 points and averaged 6.9 yards per play against NIU and Indiana and failed to top 21 points or 5.0 yards per play in any of the other 10 games.

Granted, the full-season Off. S&P+ numbers ended up about the same in 2014, but you could see what Shoop wanted to do and what Purdue's strengths might be. Behind a decent line, the Purdue run game was reasonably efficient, and in Danny Anthrop, the Boilers had at least one vertical threat. Anthrop caught five passes for 106 yards against SIU and a combined 13 for 200 against Michigan State and Minnesota.

But when he went down (after catching four passes for 80 yards) against Nebraska, the Purdue offense fell apart. There was no other big-play threat, and opponents were able to gang up on the run.

Even with Anthrop healthy, the goal of Purdue's offense was to stretch the defense from sideline to sideline, making enough five-yard gains to lull the defense and pierce it deep. But while running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert were dangerous in the open, Anthrop's injury highlighted what was already a problem: you can't have an efficiency attack when your quarterbacks are barely completing 50 percent and are throwing an interception for every 25 passes. And you can't have an efficiency attack when you're fumbling a lot.

Simple mistakes were Purdue's bugaboo. Danny Etling took too many sacks (6.4 percent sack rate) and threw too many picks (3.1 percent INT rate) considering he was averaging just 9.0 yards per completion. Etling got demoted, and Austin Appleby took fewer sacks, but he threw more picks (4.0 percent INT rate) and fumbled more while still averaging only 10.1 yards per completion. [Update: Etling transferred to LSU.]

Appleby appears likely to start, but redshirt freshman David Blough doesn't have to play like a blue-chipper to overtake him.

Losing Anthrop was a damaging blow, but you should be able to complete short passes with fewer mistakes. If experience leads to steadier quarterback play, this offense could take a nice step, even without leading rushing and receptions leader Hunt.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Akeem Hunt RB
172 952 6 5.5 7.9 34.3% 5 4
Raheem Mostert RB
93 529 3 5.7 7.3 34.4% 3 2
Austin Appleby QB 6'5, 229 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8604 49 292 5 6.0 8.4 36.7% 5 2
Keyante Green RB 5'9, 219 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547 27 199 0 7.4 11.4 33.3% 0 0
Danny Etling QB 6'2, 216 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8967 22 84 3 3.8 3.7 36.4% 2 0
David Yancey RB 5'10, 213 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244
D.J. Knox RB 5'7, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8098






Markell Jones RB 5'11, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8332
Richard Worship RB 6'1, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8439
Tario Fuller RB 6'0, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8359

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Akeem Hunt RB
67 48 293 71.6% 16.4% 59.7% 4.4 -276 4.4 30.1
Danny Anthrop WR 6'0, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8140 62 38 616 61.3% 15.2% 56.5% 9.9 152 10.0 63.4
DeAngelo Yancey WR 6'2, 223 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8298 51 12 147 23.5% 12.5% 54.9% 2.9 -46 2.9 15.1
Justin Sinz TE
43 32 257 74.4% 10.5% 58.1% 6.0 -120 6.0 26.5
Cameron Posey WR 6'1, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8081 40 19 188 47.5% 9.8% 37.5% 4.7 -57 4.5 19.3
Gabe Holmes TE
33 17 178 51.5% 8.1% 48.5% 5.4 -37 5.5 18.3
Gregory Phillips WR 6'0, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8005 25 10 151 40.0% 6.1% 68.0% 6.0 16 6.0 15.5
Raheem Mostert RB
22 18 116 81.8% 5.4% 77.3% 5.3 -93 5.2 11.9
B.J. Knauf WR
19 15 106 78.9% 4.6% 42.1% 5.6 -69 5.2 10.9
Trae Hart WR 5'10, 168 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8317 17 9 80 52.9% 4.2% 47.1% 4.7 -33 4.5 8.2
Dolapo Macarthy TE
13 7 70 53.8% 3.2% 53.8% 5.4 -18 5.2 7.2
Keyante Green RB 5'9, 219 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547 4 2 11 50.0% 1.0% 50.0% 2.8 -14 2.6 1.1
Dan Monteroso WR 6'3, 192 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8233 3 1 4 33.3% 0.7% 33.3% 1.3 -10 0.8 0.4
Myles Norwood WR 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8337 2 0 0 0.0% 0.5% 50.0% 0.0 -3 0.0 0.0
Shane Mikesky WR 6'4, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8034
Bilal Marshall WR 6'2, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8642
Matt Burke TE 6'6, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8232
Anthony Mahoungou WR 6'3, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8556

4. Anthrop and the underneath guys

With the departure of Hunt and Raheem Mostert, Purdue boasts just 27 career running back carries. Keyante Green made the most of his opportunities -- he carried just 14 times in Big Ten play and gained 128 yards (9.1 per carry) -- but didn't earn many. And this spring, he finished second on the depth chart behind sophomore D.J. Knox, who boasts big-play potential but didn't see any touches last year.

Of course, the run is secondary to the pass in a Shoop offense. Even after going run-heavy over the last half of the season, Purdue still threw more than the national average on both standard downs and passing downs, and if the Boilers can throw, Shoop wants to. Running backs saw one target for about every three carries in 2014, and they are frequently used as safety valves.

But Purdue's success will hinge on big plays. Anthrop provided them midseason last year, but he needs help. At 2.9 yards per target, DeAngelo Yancey was perhaps the country's least productive No. 3 target, and few others stepped up.

There might be hope. Gregory Phillips did average 15.1 yards per catch (albeit with a 40 percent catch rate), and fellow sophomore Trae Hart caught a long touchdown in the spring game. And players like Cameron Posey and former mid-three-star recruits like Bilal Marshall and JUCO Anthony Mahoungou obviously still have time.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 105.7 2.77 3.21 34.9% 79.5% 20.6% 115.0 4.4% 6.0%
Rank 47 90 73 104 3 82 46 57 40
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Robert Kugler C 6'3, 294 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8587 31
Jordan Roos RT 6'4, 312 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8650 18
Jason King LG 6'4, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8327 17
J.J. Prince RT 6'6, 297 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 11
David Hedelin LT 6'4, 298 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 7
Cameron Cermin LT 6'5, 301 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8328 6
Jason Tretter LG 6'6, 321 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7783 0
Corey Clements LG 6'8, 420 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 0
Joey Warburg RT 6'5, 289 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8166 0
David Hedelin OL 6'4, 298 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 0
Kirk Barron C 6'1, 305 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8292
Martesse Patterson RG 6'3, 345 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8386
Matt McCann OL 6'6, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8563
Larry Wells OL 6'8, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8356
Michael Mendez LT 6'4, 282 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652

5. A damn strong line

There is hope up front. A pass-first offense cannot succeed if it can't pass (profound, I know), but the Purdue line went from horrible to solid in just one year and returns everybody from last year's two-deep. Purdue ranked 104th in Adj. Line Yards, 125th in power success rate, 120th in stuff rate, and 93rd in Adj. Sack Rate in 2013; with three sophomores in the starting lineup, those numbers improved to 47th, third, 82nd, and 46th, respectively.

This unit has size, experience, and a sudden track record.

(Quick note to Shoop, by the way: fat-guy touchdowns are all the rage, and let's just say you would suddenly become one of the most popular coordinators in the country if you were to dial up a tackle-eligible pass to your 6'8, 420-pounder, Corey Clements. I'm not going to let the fact that he is listed as a guard disrupt my fantasy.)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 71 IsoPPP+ 100.7 63
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.0% 104 Succ. Rt. + 98.5 74
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.3 36 Off. FP+ 102.0 38
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 27 Redzone S&P+ 109.9 30
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.4 ACTUAL 19.0 -0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 82 66 76 63
RUSHING 93 83 95 79
PASSING 56 56 53 59
Standard Downs 65 71 73
Passing Downs 78 96 63
Q1 Rk 75 1st Down Rk 83
Q2 Rk 60 2nd Down Rk 62
Q3 Rk 105 3rd Down Rk 89
Q4 Rk 11

6. The patented bend-don't-break

While the offense showed promise, the defense improved top to bottom, from 83rd in Def. S&P+ in 2013 to 53rd. The Boilermakers weren't exciting, but they played sound ball, prevented big plays, and got effectively aggressive in the red zone.

This became more difficult to pull off as the injuries piled up, and wow, were there injuries -- senior linebackers Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam missed a combined 14 games, safety Austin Logan missed nine, and only seven or eight regulars managed to play in all 12.

Still, after allowing 5.6 or more yards per play in five of the first eight games, Purdue did so in only one of the final four. The defense was both young and stable late, and that's encouraging.

With Hazell's background as a Jim Tressel guy (he was an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10), it stands to reason that a Hazell defense would favor fundamentals, and at its best, Purdue's defense was a bend-don't-break unit, one that limited explosive plays (169 plays of at least 10 yards, 46th in the country) and kept you out of the end zone in scoring opportunities. They made sound adjustments -- their best quarter was the fourth quarter, and not only because of garbage time -- and with help from a strong return game, they created decent field position.

Considering the youth, this was encouraging.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 95.6 3.17 3.64 40.3% 67.3% 18.8% 87.5 2.9% 7.9%
Rank 84 97 94 84 64 73 90 107 55
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ryan Russell DE
12 36.0 5.4% 6.0 2.5 0 1 1 0
Jake Replogle DT 6'5, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8209 12 34.0 5.1% 11.0 3.5 0 1 0 0
Jalani Phillips DE
12 27.0 4.0% 5.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Gelen Robinson DE 6'1, 250 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8599 11 17.0 2.5% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Ra'Zahn Howard NG 6'3, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8000 11 15.5 2.3% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Ryan Watson NG 6'2, 298 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9193 12 15.0 2.2% 5.5 4.0 0 0 0 0
Evan Panfil DE 6'5, 262 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8216 12 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Rouse III DT 6'4, 301 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8276 5 4.0 0.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Antoine Miles DE 6'3, 236 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389
John Strauser DE 6'2, 270 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8059
Will Colmery DT 6'5, 263 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200
Eddy Wilson DT 6'4, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8225








7. Jake needs more from the fatmen

The Purdue secondary acquitted itself well; the Boilers ranked 56th in Passing S&P+ despite a limited pass rush, but until Purdue gets more from its front, the ceiling will be low.

In tackle Jake Replogle and pass rushing nose guard Ryan Watson (strangely, of Watson's 15 tackles, four were sacks, which makes him seem more like a rush end), Purdue has a couple of interesting play-makers, but it needs more. The end position was only decent and must now replace both starters, so there will be a lot of pressure on players like converted linebacker Gelen Robinson and junior Evan Panfil to produce. [Update: Robinson will miss 2-4 after an alcohol-related arrest.]

If they do, the interior positions could be sound with Replogle, Watson, and 2014 role players Ra'Zahn Howard and Michael Rouse III. Replogle is quick enough to play end, which might maximize the upside.

Steadier linebacker play could make the line look better. After both Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam went down, Purdue handed the reins to two freshmen (Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu) and a sophomore (Jimmy Herman). This trio has size, athleticism and upside but was too young.

Aside from Watson and Rouse, by the way, every player I just mentioned is an underclassman. This front seven could be dynamite in 2016.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ja'Whaun Bentley MLB 6'2, 260 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8478 12 59.5 8.9% 3.5 0.0 1 1 0 0
Jimmy Herman SLB 6'4, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8335 10 42.0 6.3% 1.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
Danny Ezechukwu WLB 6'2, 246 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8170 12 35.0 5.2% 3.0 1.5 1 1 2 0
Sean Robinson MLB
6 34.5 5.1% 3.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Collin Link SLB
12 12.0 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Gilliam SLB
4 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Andy James Garcia WLB 6'0, 228 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8165 12 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Dezwan Polk-Campbell LB 6'3, 212 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7957
Garrett Hudson MLB 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8147
Wyatt Cook LB 6'3, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8499
Markus Bailey LB 6'1, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8460
Sawyer Dawson LB 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Landon Feichter FS
12 88.0 13.1% 2.5 0 5 3 1 0
Frankie Williams CB/SS 5'9, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8465 11 62.5 9.3% 1.5 1 3 7 0 0
Anthony Brown CB 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8224 12 47.5 7.1% 5.5 1.5 0 10 0 0
Taylor Richards SS
10 38.0 5.7% 1 0 0 4 0 0
Antoine Lewis CB
11 21.0 3.1% 1 1 0 4 2 0
Leroy Clark SS 5'10, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8431 12 20.0 3.0% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Austin Logan S 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8429 3 9.0 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Robert Gregory FS 6'1, 219 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8880 10 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Da'Wan Hunte CB 5'9, 183 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8131 5 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Evan Feichter FS 6'0, 191 Jr. NR NR
Race Johnson CB 5'11, 187 So. NR 0.7000
Tim Cason S 5'11, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8488
Brandon Roberts SS 5'11, 174 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8205
Evyn Cooper S 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398
Mike Little CB 6'0, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382








8. A high-upside, low-downside secondary

It's an optimist-vs-pessimist situation. The optimist will see two physical cornerbacks in Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown and, in Leroy Clark, Austin Logan, and Robert Gregory, a trio of safeties with upside and at least a little bit of experience.

The pessimist will see that safeties Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards and corner Antoine Lewis are all gone; for a team dependent on preventing big plays, losing your three best safeties (Feichter and Richards, plus Williams if he's back at CB) is frightening.

If coordinator Greg Hudson finds the right cocktail for improving the pass rush, Williams and Brown (combined: seven tackles for loss, three picks, 17 break-ups last year) could make havoc plays on the outside. But one does have to worry about big plays if you've got aggressive corners being protected by green safeties.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Thomas Meadows 6'0, 182 Sr. 58 39.8 2 19 15 58.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Paul Griggs 6'1, 196 Sr. 36 53.2 8 2 22.2%
Ian MacDougall 23 60.4 11 1 47.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Paul Griggs 6'1, 196 Sr. 32-33 9-9 100.0% 7-11 63.6%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Raheem Mostert KR 34 21.5 0
Akeem Hunt KR 4 20.3 0
Frankie Williams PR 5'9, 190 Sr. 11 15.9 0
Danny Anthrop PR 6'0, 191 Sr. 3 12.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 77
Field Goal Efficiency 16
Punt Return Efficiency 13
Kick Return Efficiency 53
Punt Efficiency 111
Kickoff Efficiency 112
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 59

9. Simply woeful coverage

Paul Griggs is automatic inside of 40 yards, and in Frankie Williams, Purdue has one of the more dynamic punt returners in a conference loaded with dynamic punt returners.

But special teams is going to only be so much of a strength if kickoffs and punts are a drain on field position. Purdue allowed 11.4 yards per punt return, 12th in the conference, and while the Boilermakers allowed a healthier 19.8 yards per kick return (37th nationally), Griggs' kickoffs were short and inefficient. Purdue ranked in the triple digits in kickoff and punt efficiency, which meant that the bend-don't-break defense was already bending before a drive even started.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
6-Sep at Marshall 17
12-Sep Indiana State NR
19-Sep Virginia Tech 33
26-Sep Bowling Green 98
3-Oct at Michigan State 11
10-Oct Minnesota 37
17-Oct at Wisconsin 25
31-Oct Nebraska 30
7-Nov Illinois 78
14-Nov at Northwestern 71
21-Nov at Iowa 63
28-Nov Indiana 88
Five-Year F/+ Rk -15.9% (91)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 66 / 61
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -5 / -1.9
2014 TO Luck/Game -1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (9, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 3.4 (-0.4)

10. The wrong schedule for a breakthrough

While a Todd Berry-esque "leap" might not be in the cards, I do expect Purdue to improve again. The depth and experience are stronger, and while there are plenty of question marks -- quarterback, turnovers, defensive end, safety -- there are fewer. Hazell is building slowly, and another year of growth could set the table for 2016.

Even with a decent leap, Purdue might come up short in bowl pursuit, as this schedule is a doozy. The Boilermakers play six teams that ranked 37th or better in F/+ last year and only two that ranked 90th or worse. There are four more in the No. 60-90 range, and last year's four weakest teams all come to West Lafayette, so if the Boilers execute well in close games (or just get lucky), perhaps they could eek out six wins.

Odds are good that they will improve into the 60s or so but finish around 4-8 or 5-7.

Still, that's improvement. When you bottom out like Purdue did, it's hard to see anything bright, but 2014 proved Hazell has a chance to succeed. Improvement with a team full of sophomores and juniors could mean exciting things for a 2016 team loaded with juniors and seniors.